According to a landmark national study released today, Catholic clergy and lay parish leaders in the United Stated for the most part do not like the new Roman Missal which was introduced in November 2011. The study was commissioned by the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies of Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, and carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

According to the CARA study, clergy reject the missal by a 52/42 margin. The largest group of clergy (41%) say that “before it was introduced I was apprehensive about it and I still don’t like it,” with a further 11% saying that “before it was introduced I was looking forward to it but I’ve changed my mind and don’t like it.” Only 27% say that “before it was introduced I was looking forward to it and I still like it.” When clergy and lay leaders are taken together, the missal is rejected by a 49/45 margin.

Among the other findings of the study:

  • 58% of clergy disagree (35% strongly) that they like the more formal style of language in the new text.
  • Only 39% of clergy think the new missal is an improvement on the previous translation. 58% disagree, 32% strongly, that it is an improvement.
  • 76% of clergy agree, 50% strongly, that some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.
  • A majority of clergy think that the new translation urgently needs to be revised – 54% agree with this, 37% agreeing strongly, whereas 41% do not think it urgently needs to be revised.
  • Clergy do not think other rites (marriage, confirmation, divine office) should be translated in a similar style, by a margin of 57/41.

The study reveals some disturbing trends about the trust Catholic clergy place in Church leadership.

  • Asked whether they are confident that the views of priests will be taken seriously in future decision about liturgical translation, nearly 2/3 (63%) are not confident that they will be heard. The largest group of clergy, 33%, disagree strongly that their views will be taken seriously. Only 23% of clergy think that priests’ views will be taken seriously, of which only 7% strongly agree with this sentiment.
  • Half of all clergy (50%) say they do not approve of the leadership of the Holy See in Rome in bringing about the new missal, with 44% supporting the Holy See.

When priests and lay parish leaders are taken together, the margin of support for the new missal is a bit higher than the views of just clergy. But this larger group of clergy and lay leaders together still rejects the formal language of the missal by a 55/41 margin, thinks that some of the language is awkward and distracting (75/24), disagrees that the new missal is an improvement (55/40), and thinks that the new translation urgently needs to be revised (50/42).

This new study by CARA largely corroborates the results of a less scientific study carried out by the Diekmann Center and released in May, 2013. That study invited all priests in 32 participating U.S. diocese to state their views on the new missal. That studied showed that 59% of priests do not like the new missal, compared to 39% who do. Priests rejected the more formal language by a 57/36 margin, and 80% agreed that some of the missal’s language is awkward and distracting. 61% said that the new translation urgently needs to be revised, and 61% did not think other rites and sacraments should be translated in the same style as the new missal. In the earlier study 55% disagreed that priests’ views on translation would be taken seriously, and 49% did not approve of the Holy See’s leadership in bringing about the new missal.

At the time of the earlier study, Bishop Robert Brom, now retired bishop of San Diego, said that “the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay. The views of priests must be taken into consideration.”

The Roman Missal retranslation was made necessary by the controversial 2001 Roman document Liturgiam authenticam which has been stronglyy criticized by leading liturgical scholars. A widely-aclaimed earlier revision, carried out from 1981 to 1998 and approved by all the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world, was discarded by the Holy See with the issuance of the 2001 translation directives. Pray Tell has reported extensively on the long and difficult path toward the 2011 Roman Missal

Fr. Anthony Cutcher, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, sees the newly-released CARA study as an opportunity to work constructively toward a revision of the current text which clergy and lay leaders dislike. He said,

 Our response turns from condemnation to constructive criticism… Armed with the latest data, we can take this opportunity to help craft a revision that stays true to the text and at the same time is accessible to all.

An essay on the new missal by Fr. Cutcher will be published tomorrow at Pray Tell.

Cutcher’s remarks echo those of former U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who recently conceded that the new text has “flaws and difficulties” and is “inadequate” and “needs correction.”

Pray Tell moderator Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, who was involved in the development of the new missal but then withdrew support for it in an open letter to the U.S. Bishops, recently expressed hope that the Catholic Church could move beyond past difficulties:

Have we turned the corner on this missal thing? Are we ready to build up the church with a constructive discussion of its strengths and weaknesses?

Fr. Anthony has written an editorial on the way forward with the missal.

Here is the full CARA report, which analyzes the responses of clergy and lay parish leaders taken together: “Attitudes of Clergy and Lay Leaders toward the New Translation of the Roman Missal: Findings from CARA’s National Survey of Catholic Parishes.” The responses of just clergy to the CARA survey are found here.

This CARA study was carried out by the Diekmann Center with the generous support of the following organizations: The National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP), The Church Music Association of America (CMAA),  The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), Liturgical Press, and several anonymous individuals.